Lessons on the truth - A Yogic Guide
They can be seen as the rules for life.
The yogic moral code.
An ethical guide for practicing yogis.
The most famous yama to come out of India is ahimsa or non-violence as was strongly practiced by Mahatma Ghandi in his leadership of the Indian people as they broke free from British colonial rule.
2nd Yama Satya - Truth
Lessons on The Truth
Most religious orders, across cultures and race repeat a simple request for us to be honest. Our legal systems are full of litigation and laws to uphold the truth. There is a reason for this. We can lie. We can misinform. And this creates disfunction in society. Look at all the drama in the world with "fake news" that we are currently faced with.
And noone argues with the fact that it's an important thing to tell the truth. Your parents told you, your teachers told you, there are laws against it. And you don't reply, well, actually no, not me, I think it's okay to lie, and in fact I tell my kids its a really good thing to lie.
And yet it is incredibly difficult to tell the truth sometimes.
Do you like my new outfit? Asks a friend who you know desperately wants to look good and just spent a small fortune on a new item for their wardrobe.
What's your response if you don't like the look? It can be particularly hard to say your truth sometimes.
The short term response of "yes it looks lovely" keeps your friendship smooth.
The risk of telling your truth, to say actually (in your opinion) no, it does not look good is a risk. How will your friend react? How will they respond to your honesty?
So a short term solution seems to be to lie. However, this is in the long term a big mistake. As you will create distrust. There may now be some distance between you.
And more than that, if you have a habit of saying what other want to people to hear, you lose any notion of what is really true for you. You lose your own inner guide for integrity.
We all get fed up with politicians because they don't tell the truth, rather they try and say what they think the voters want to hear. They want to win votes, they are looking for approval.
And how about if you make a mistake at work? A mistake of such a magnitude that you risk being fired.
When the boss asks if you know how this happened you say nothing. By omission you are being dishonest. The short term response keeps you your job, you keep your head low and your employment.
Yet the long term effect of being dishonest can be catastrophic.
Losing your integrity is like having lost your purpose or soul.
Your inner compass, your own sense of clarity and direction. If you are always saying the "right thing" that you think other people want to hear, you never develop that inner muscle of telling the truth.
And it effects your body. There is scientific evidence using muscle response testing that the body can't lie, the muscles slaken and are weaker if you tell a lie.
"The truth! truth is revolutionary."
Said suffragette Charlotte Despard in 1912.
It is revolutionary, and that is why humans have put the need for the truth into our religions, our moral codes and built our social structures around it. It can be so revolutionary that you may losing a friend, be fired from your job, expelled from your school, shuned by your family, losing your place in your community, yes, your truth may shatter your identity.
And yet to live from your truth means your integrity will stand.
As well as teaching yoga, I also coach people using a tool called The Work of Byron Katie. It's a simple process and the very first question of The Work is:
Is it true?
In the many years of doing The Work, I have answered that question thousands of times. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Did something happen? Did it not? Did they say that? Did they not? Did they mean it? Did they not?
Last year my husband and I had a decision to make and we disagreed on what to do.
I saw his truth and I understood it, it would be very easy to simply say okay sure.
But, I had a different opinion. My dilemma was, what I going to do with my opinion, with my truth?
I had to be honest, not because I needed to be right, but because not speaking did not sit right in my body, it felt off. And this was not just between me and my husband, my truth affected several other people as would disrupt what seemed a very good idea.
So I shared that I had a opinion, a different truth, even though it created a lot of uncertainty for everyone.
About a month later, the decision was made for us by one of the other people involved and everything was settled. In an entirely different direction, and given the world situation we are facing now with Covid-19 (that non of us could see at the time), it has actually turned out to be the wisest decsion of all.
Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson says "Tell the truth, or at least don't lie". That last point "at least don't lie" is important.
If I had lied about my opinion, and gone into agreement with my husband, I can see now the consequences would have been very different, and maybe not good at all.
I think it's an important distinction that Peterson makes between telling the truth and lying. Because sometimes we are not sure of our truth. Sometimes it can be hard to know what the truth really is.
Have you ever had the experience of talking about a family event in the past with siblings or parents who were present? Or shared with a old university friend about some party or other and it seems like you were not at the same party?
When you discuss some of the details, you all have different versions.
In my experience, I have had memories of an event happen in an entirely different place according to who is recounting the tale, or more people were present than what you remember. According to some certain things were said, according to others nothing was said. Maybe words were spoken, but who spoke them, and what was said really?
The truth, if you are relying on memory can be hazy, because everyone will recall, or choose to recall their own version.
However, it's much clearer to know when you lie.
There were 100 people at the party. When you know there were 10 or 15. That's a lie.
I watched the 2019 documentary about the founder of Bikram Yoga - Bikram Choudhury "Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator" in the one part when he was questioned about how many students were practicing his style of yoga.
He said openly, well if 1,000 students come you can call it 10,000. And if a 100,000 students you can say 1 million.
He was legitimzing lying. This is the truth on top of which it's okay to lie...
It's shocking and funny at the same time to hear it - from a yoga teacher too (shocking if you are like me and expect big name yoga teachers, spiritual teachers to be demi-gods, saints or gurus and have no faults at all). And funny because everybody at some point does it.
When people ask you How much? or How many ? Have you ever rounded up the numbers to appear a wee bit more than they were? There's the joke with fishermen of how the length of fish they caught grows by an inch with each telling.
And I'm not writing this from the perspective of being beyond shifting truth, I am no saint myself.
My hand goes up quickly in admission to lies I have told, small lies, big lies.
We are all human, making our own way as best we can. Making mistakes, missing our mark with our truth sometimes. And I'm grateful for Peterson's adage: BUT at least don't lie.
In early January this year - I set an intention to live a "Yogic Life" to study and work with the Yamas and Niyamas and I created a vision board to anchor it.
To live a yogic life is no small thing.
And sure enough the universe has provided me with a huge lesson and teaching already.
I made a grave error a couple of weeks ago. I gossiped about something and hurt someone I love.
Gossip is an interesting way to manipulate truth. As it means taking tiny snippets of truth and then spinning a tale around them, so when you tell it to another person, who tells it to another person, the spin can get out of control, eventually any trace of the truth is lost.
We've all played "Chinese Whispers" or "Telephone" where the message gets garbled the more it passes on.
So what I said passed two other people until it reached my friend. It was spun out of context and out of my control. And why did I engage in gossip? For many reasons, non of them pretty, nothing I'm proud of.
In buddhist practice, they speak of the three pillars of right speech. When I communicated in the first place, I failed to ask myself Is it kind? Is it true? and Is it necessary? Had I done so, I definately would not have gossiped.
I have watched this desire to gossip being cleansed out of my system, rather like we cleanse the joints (the niyama of saucha) in kaiut yoga.
It has been very humbling.
I have understood my need to gossip as a way to relieve myself of uncomfortable feelings, blame other people, make myself big when I feel small.
Ironically, as I went through this process, I would love to have gossiped about this gossip to friends. Pull in evidence or proof, share the source of what I gossiped about. Gather more details. And then let them gossip about the gossip to other friends who would gossip. UGH !
This would not only be damaging the name and reputation of my friend, not only hurting them further, but equally painfully I can see how it would create a sense of self-loathing, a lack of clarity and confusion about my integrity and my truth...
Gossip can lead me far, far away from my truth.
So my intention to live a yogic life is working deeply on my soul and challenging me to come back to my truth and to my integrity.
I subsequently apologised and tried to make amends to my friend directly. I have done what I can to ask for forgiveness. In the process of trying to apologise and set this right I also had to adhere to my truth.
And not The Truth - for I've already shared, that can be a hard thing to define let alone agree on.
In my apology, I could have lied, said certain things, gossiped about others, justified my actions and kept our friendship going. But that would be a foundation based on lies. I knew in speaking my truth I was risked losing an important friendship.
I saw clearly that if I lost my own integrity, that would be a far bigger loss.
There's a quote I heard in a movie I watched recently called "Knives Out" (2019) The detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig) says
"The complexity and the gray lie not in the truth but what you do with the truth once you have it."
So I told my truth, knowing we might not see each other again. Which sadly looks the case, and I can be hopeful that hearts may heal, truth may uphold and that may change in the future.
Thankfully, I have satya and the Eight limbs of Yoga to anchor my intention to live a yogi life, as I continue to explore the meaning of truth and strengthen that muscle of integrity within me.
And so I close this lesson on the truth - Satya.
A bow to aumbase yoga sedona for the artwork on their wall - where I took this pic !
Let your truth shine !
You can find me on www.kathywhiteyoga.com and download three free videos. I teach live classes in person at my Vancouver Island Studio which are also broadcast online and there is a membership area where you can find recordings of classes too. I have trained in Kaiut Yoga, Yoga Mais (both from Brazil), Scaravelli inspired yoga and my original training 20 years ago was in Sivananda.